How to Clothes Swap

Date September 9, 2008

WHAT?: How to Throw a Back-to-School Clothes Swap (anytime of year)

INSPIRATION: Swap-o-rama-rama as seen at Austin ’s Maker Faire 2007


* A big room; the school gym for example.
* Large tables (we had fourteen 6’x3’ tables)
* 10 or so large pieces of cardboard or heavy cloth approx. 8’ x 10’
* Sewing machines (we had 5 going at all times) and notions
* Selected fabric with fun patterns with (optional)
* Fusing paper appliqué backing such as Wonder Under or Misty Fuse (optional)
* Piles of buttons (optional)
* Fat markers
* Ironing board (optional)
* Plenty of snacks and water
* A microphone and amplifier (optional)
* Silk screening equipment (optional)


* Sewers
* Sorters
* Silk Screeners
* Swappers (the more the better)


* Align the tables along one well-lit wall. For each sewing station you will need two tables set up in an “L” shape. Upon each table place one sewing machine at opposite corners facing out.
* Set up the ironing board and one table in an “L” shape.
* Lay the cardboard or cloth out on the floor. These will be used for separating the clothes. Mark these by gender, by item and somewhat by size. For example: BOYS PANTS Size 3T-8. GIRLS DRESSES SIZE 3T-8. BABY CLOTHES 2T and under, etc. For our back-to-school swap we also had adult clothes which we simply separated into tops and bottoms both genders mixed together.
* A row of tables upon which to dump and sort out the incoming bags of clothes.
* Have a water station set up for your volunteers especially and snacks too
* The more spacious the set-up, the easier the event will be. Of course the size of the room determines this but with that in mind, find the biggest room you can lay your hands on.


* Tote bag from a t-shirt*
* Silk screening
* Applique station using the fusing fabric*


* Before the event, put a call out to your community in search of seamstresses, silk screeners, and sorters. We are lucky to live in a town where there are many crafters and sewers so we could easily man our stations. Our call for help also brought in seamstresses we had never met before, who had no connection to the school but loved the idea of helping the kids bring their vision to fruition. We sent our announcement out to a few listservs and within days it was circuited throughout the entire city of Austin – via Yahoo groups and email lists. Ah, the beauty of modern day grass roots.


* Once you open the doors, the people will come – so be ready. The more ready you are with your set-up, the more fun you will have and the more fun the attendees will have as well.
* Keep the piles of clothing easily accessible. If one section looks to be getting too big, break it down into smaller sections. For example, our small girls dress and tops pile was ENORMOUS so we broke it down into two separate piles by breaking down the sizes even more than we already had.
* When something really fantastic comes through, like in our case a pair of really cool looking Blue Fluevog shoes, tout it on the microphone. When someone creates some really amazing outfit, like a denim skirt from a pair of jeans complete with appliqués, show it off to demonstrate the possibilities.
* Know that you can do it without all the pomp and circumstance and just hold a regular clothes swap. Fun. But to add the craft stations and silk screening just takes it to a whole different level. To allow people the option to explore totally unique self-expressive fashion is like presenting them with their own beautiful creativity.


We had a lot of stuff left over at the end. Piles of stuff really. We asked everyone who was still in attendance to grab a bag and drop it off at their favorite shelter, thrift store or charity. We were lucky also to have a woman come in at the end who worked with a community of recently arrived refugees. We hauled the rest up there in a truck and were greatly received by this small community who were happy to get so much.

The key is do what you can and make it your own!

We’d love to hear from you if you decide to host a clothes swap in your own community.

4 Responses to “How to Clothes Swap”

  1. Courtney said:

    I think this is an amazing idea. I am in school to be a teacher (Art Education), and will most likely be teaching high schoolers. I am always on the lookout for idea I can use with them (we all know how much they need their community service!). I definitely want to earmark this activity. I think your site is great!

  2. Leslie said:

    We do an annual clothes swap at our church like this.

  3. 3rd Annual Back-to-School Clothes SWAP!!!! | Future Craft Collective said:

    [...] hope wish prayer flags Our intentions for a water bottle holder Reusable-Upcycled Lunch bag How to Clothes Swap Gratitude Banner future craft collective [...]

  4. Barbara said:

    This is great, we had a clotheswap this spring and it was fantastic, but i love the idea of adding screenprinting and sewing machines! Organization is a big key to this, divide and conquer!
    thanks for the great directions.